Benny Jay: Living With Jimi

February 17th, 2019

For the last few weeks, I’ve been repeatedly listening to My Cherie Amour.

It’s not the universally known version by the great Stevie Wonder.

No, it’s a cover version by my wife, who generally plays it while sitting at the kitchen table.

As such, my wife, our dog and I are probably the only living beings who know this version exists.

My wife, you see, is learning to play the guitar. At the moment, her practice song of choice is the aforementioned My Cherie Amour.

You know what? Just in case someone out there doesn’t instantly know this song, let me remind you that it goes like this…

“My Cherie Amour, lovely as a summer day/My Cherie Amour, distant at the Milky Way…”

One of the finest pop music lyric ever written!

In the Stevie Wonder version, the chorus features a string of 13 la, la, las.

In my wife’s version, there’s 12 las and then a great pause.

That’s because the progression of la, la, las moves to a chord that requires my wife to make some ridiculously impossible contortions with her fingers.

All in an effort to squeeze the most appropriately precise sound from the guitar for that part of the song.

That chord she’s trying to play is known–in the business–as a bar chord.

Bar chords are to becoming a guitar player a little like what Freshman Intro to Biology is to becoming a doctor.

They’re the gatekeepers that separate people who have a future in the endeavor from everybody else.

IMG_0194My Cherie Amour…

The point is that those with bendable fingers may someday turn into competent guitar players.

And those who don’t should look for another hobby.

I know this because once upon a time I, too, tried to master the guitar.

Yes, yes, this is true. I took lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music. My “teachers” were local musicians looking to pick up a few bucks in between their gigs.

As such, they made no attempt to even pretend that they gave a shit what, if anything, we learned. Most could barely hide their horror at the wretched sounds produced by a room full of rookies hacking away at their guitars.

After several months, I realized I would never–ever–learn to play a bar chord.

And so I dropped guitar and took up bowling. Causing guitar teachers everywhere to burst into jubilant choruses of Oh, Happy Day!

Anyway, I’d like to report some good news.

My wife’s way better at guitar playing than I was.

And she’s drastically cut the pauses between those la/las.

Folks, I may have married the next Jimi Hendrix!

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Jim Siergey: Tick & Tock

February 17th, 2019

We have a grandfather clock. We’ve had it for a long time.

It’s a fine looking clock, of German craftsmanship and stemming from the early 1900s.  It’s a stately looking piece of functional furniture.

The story behind it is that my wife’s father, before he was her father, along with a buddy, before he was her uncle, bought the clock on Maxwell Street. The catch to the deal was that all of the clock’s insides, the weights, chains, gears, etc., were jumbled together in a bushel basket.

Bushel basket. There’s a word one doesn’t hear much anymore as well as an item one doesn’t see much any more. When I was a kid, everyone had bushel baskets. Now we have large plastic bags.

Anyway, the two mechanical masterminds put the clock together and got it working. It was then given as a gift to the woman who would eventually become my wife’s mother.

Ah, don’t you just love romantic stories?

There was one oddity about the clock. At one o’clock it would strike thirteen times.

Throughout my wife’s childhood, it would strike thirteen times and when it came into our possession in the late 1970s, it continued to toll the same when one o’clock rolled around.

GClock1

Big clock…

 

However, one “night” at one in the morning, the clock struck beyond its standard thirteen times. It struck fourteen times, fifteen times, sixteen and, well, it just wouldn’t stop.

Feeling a bit like John Donne, I attempted to cease or at least quiet the incessant tolling.

All my attempts to quell it were unsuccessful. It was only after I removed all the weights and chains and whatnot that it went silent…and silent it remained.

For thirtysome years it silently occupied its space in the corner of the dining room; a stately sentinel, its face frozen and its pendulum still.

We recently moved to a different house in a different town in a different state. All this newness induced us to do what we had spoken of doing for decades. We called a clock repairman. His name was Bob and he made house calls.

Bob, a nimble 75 year old, arrived and meticulously took everything apart. The pendulum needed to be straightened and in the guts of the thing one could see that some of the hammers were straight (the way they should be) but the others were all grotesquely twisted, which explained its inability to chime correctly. The gearbox was also badly in need of cleaning and oiling.

It’d probably been fifty years or longer since anything like that had been done.

Bob then carefully packed up the weights, chains, pendulum and gearbox to take with him to be cleaned, oiled and regulated. He had a set up where he could test the chimes which he would do for two weeks. A thorough fellow, this Bob was.

During that interim the clock sat empty and faceless…but still stately.

A little over two weeks later Bob was back and so is the grandfather clock.

Once again it is chiming on each quarter hour and tolling, the correct number of tolls, on the hour. It feels like an old friend has walked back into our lives.

It’s about time.

 

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Jim Siergey: The Falcon In Mexico

February 10th, 2019

I recently watched an old movie on my new found joy, Cable TV.

It was “The Falcon in Mexico”. The Falcon was a suave English private investigator who had a series of movies made about him during the 1940s.

What really caught my attention in this particular entry was that the Mexican town the action took place in was Patzcuaro and the island of Janitzio—two places to which I have been!

Now, the action didn’t really take place there as it was a low budget B-movie but the backdrops were from Patzcuaro and Janitzio . Despite me being there fifty or sixty years after this film was shot, I recognized much of the scenery which shouldn’t be surprising as the town has been around for centuries.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my wife and I have friends that live in San Jeronomito, a little village in Mexico. We have visited them many times. One time we were with them visiting people in another village, Zacatula. From there my wife and I planned to visit Patzcuaro and Janitzio, which we had read about with great interest.

Patzcuaro is a mountain town located in the state of Michoacán. It was founded in 1320 but in the 1500s the Spanish invaded and took over. Much of the architecture from that period still remains. Bordering this town is a large body of water, Lake Patzcuaro. Out in that lake is an island town called Janitzio. One must take a boat to reach the island which is basically a floating mountain. The only directions there are up and down.

There are many places to eat on Janitzio and many vendors selling everything one can think of. It’s kind of like Mexico’s Galena.  Atop of the island is a huge statue of Jose Maria Morelos, a great hero of Mexico’s independence, of which brave souls can enter and climb to the top of his raised fist where there is a panoramic view through the slotted windows.

Patzcuaro and Janitzio is a vacation destination for many Mexicans.

Our Mexican friends in Zacatula were concerned with us traveling alone on this 300 mile journey. We would need to take a bus to Uruapan, the next large town, where we would connect with another bus to take us up to Patzcuaro.  We finally allayed their concerns but they insisted that we take coats with us because it was cold up in the mountains.
José-María-Morelos-y-PavónMr. Morelos…

“Cold?” we sneered, “Tut Tut. We’re from Chicago. We’re not afraid of no stinking cold.”

To alleviate their protestations, we agreed to take along a sweatshirt and a windbreaker. When we finally arrived at our destination, we regretted not taking coats. It was COLD! Some people walking around town were clad in parkas, fer chrissake.

As usual, we had made no reservations and since it was a week before Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the town was packed with visitors and vendors making preparations for the forthcoming festival.

We lugged our luggage up the alpine streets, shivering, sweating and gasping in the thin mountain air (7000 feet elevation). We lugged and trudged from one No Vacancy to another until we finally found a room at an old monastery that had been turned into a hotel.

It was a lovely place, lots of wood work, big beams, twelve foot ceilings, and windows that opened upon a small balcony that looked upon the zócalo (the main plaza). We felt like we had gone back in time.

What brought us back to the present time was discovering our room was directly above the only night club in town (which may have explained its vacancy) so pulse pounding music blared beneath us—but only until midnight.

This did not deter us from staying at the same place when we returned some years later—but we took a different room.

In the Falcon movie (remember that?)  the fishermen with their unique butterfly nets were shown and  La Danza de los Viejitos (The Dance of the Old Men) played a key role in the climax. In La Danza, children wear traditional dress and old men masks and canes. They perform their dance bent over like old men and at the end start dancing sprightly before revealing who they really are.

When my wife and I first saw this dance we heard creaking and squeaking and wondered how the dancers produced that sound effect that resembled creaky joints and bones. Then we realized that we were seated near a playground with children swinging on squeaky, creaky swings.

Boy, were our caras roja!

I could go on and on about this marvelous part of Mexico but I am nearing my word limit so I shall close by thanking the Falcon for stirring up this pleasant memory!

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Snow Job

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Jim Siergey: Snow Job

January 30th, 2019

I’ll say one thing about this town to which I have recently moved, as soon as snowflakes begin to fall snow plows are on the move.

Main streets, side streets, all around the town, plows are plowing til there’s nothing left to plow.

I am especially impressed with the care they give to the side streets. It’s a stark difference from Chicago where the side streets have to wait until after the main arteries have been salted and plowed enough times for traffic to flow safely before snow plows venture down them.

Ironically, they appear after everyone has shoveled their cars out, only to be half-buried again with the snow plows’ wintry detritus. We all know that routine.

I realize that the reason behind this big difference is that Munster, Indiana is a whole lot smaller than the City of Big Shoulders and Big Snow Mounds. Still, it’s nice.

I wondered if all small towns are treated this way but I have been told that the side streets in Lansing, which is a few blocks away and located in Illinois, are not treated with the baby bottom care that Munster’s side streets are treated.

I do have to shovel the sidewalk in front of my house, which is longer than the one in front of the house from which I moved in Chicago. Plus, I now have something I didn’t have in Chicago—a driveway.

It’s pretty goldurn big.

Just like I was the only one in this new neighborhood who used an old-fashioned manual lawn mower and an old-fashioned manual rake, I appear to be the only one using an old-fashioned manual shovel.

fatmansnow

Maybe this is the guy who shoveled Jim’s snow…

 

We had a decent snowfall a while ago and I was out shoveling away. My neighbor to the west of me was out with his snow blower. He shouted at me over the racket of the machine, asking if I’d like him to work on removing snow from my driveway. Never one to veto another’s volunteering of assistance, I said, “Sure, if you want to.”

He, being about my age or maybe even a bit older, replied, “Well, I don’t really .” but he plowed ahead. After he cleared away a third or so of the drive way, I tapped him on the shoulder and hollered that he needn’t do any more than that. Heck, he didn’t want to anyway.

I did later leave a six pack of beer at this doorstep in thanks. Yuengling Lager, the pride of Pittsburgh.

During another shoveling escapade after yet another snowfall, the neighbor to the east of me was out with a snow blower that was twice the size of my other neighbor’s removal apparatus. He just continued on down my sidewalk from his and began clearing the part of my driveway that I hadn’t yet cleared.

No words were exchanged as it would have put too much strain on our voices to be heard over the din but nods and waves were exchanged.

I don’t know if this is snow blower etiquette or if it’s merely pity taken upon a pathetic old man outside in the cold wielding a prehistoric tool.

I appreciate these neighborly gestures and despite the fact that they tend to interfere with the meditative state I find myself in while shoveling, I’m not going to gripe about it..

This last snowfall, which must have been at least six inches of wet snow, was more work than the previous couple of inches of the white fluffy stuff. I trudged out yet again with my trusty shovel but I admit that I had to take three breaks before finishing.

By finishing, I mean that I shoveled enough snow off the sidewalk for someone to sidle down it sideways and enough from the driveway for a car to sneak through.

The next morning I noticed that both the sidewalk and the rest of the driveway had been snow blown away to completion.

Being a paranoid sort, I didn’t know whether to take the act as an attack upon my poor job of snow manicuring that caused someone to fix this blight upon the neighborhood or just somebody out in a snow blower meditative state of mind.

One never knows, do one?

A’course now, once I begin using one I’ll be expected to plow here, there and everywhere.

It’s snow blower etiquette, right?

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Art Or Life

 

 

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Jim Siergey: Art Or Life

January 22nd, 2019

In my last Third City post I wrote about how I had belatedly became impressed (I used the term ‘enamored’ but I now belatedly edit that) with the dancing moves of Michael Jackson.

He indeed was a very talented entertainer and artiste but it is difficult to separate his art from his alleged propensity for child molestation. I don’t know if any of those accusations have been proven true but there is an upcoming documentary that includes testimony from two people who testify that they were abused by The King of Pop when they were 7 and 10 years of age.

As MJ sang, “Say Say Say”.

After learning some of the things that one learns from probing into the life of an artist, be it by reading biographies, autobiographies or court transcripts, I found it to be more personally fulfilling to avoid learning about an artist’s personal life and deal solely with how his or her work affected me.

The Ignorance is Bliss defense.

But, it is a worthy question. Should an artist be judged by his art or his personal life? Will it be the lady or the tiger? Can we have the yin without the yang?

Unfortunately, many talented people are creeps. Besides Michael Jackson, there’s R. Kelly. If his and Michael’s allegations are true, they are way beyond creeps. They’re Cosby Creeps.

Ah, the one-time lovable, All-American, everybody’s favorite uncle, Bill Cosby.

Sigh.

billcosbysiergey

Old loves…

 

When I was a teenager, I loved Bill Cosby. I used to memorize his routines, i.e. “The Monster Chicken Heart”. Shee-it, man, he was funny. He was the first black man to not only co-star on a TV show but to co-star on what then was a very cool TV show, “I Spy”. He was the spokesperson for Jell-O, starred in “The Cosby Show”, his own groundbreaking TV series… the list goes on.

He, like Michael and R., had it all. Apparently, they desired a different kind of ‘all’.

Cosby is now a public disgrace. Everything he ever did is tainted

Then there’s Woody Allen. Again, I don’t know if any of the allegations thrust at him have been proven to be true but an aura of queasiness now hovers above his work.

Roman Polanski, Phil Spector, Picasso, Lord Byron, Kevin Spacey. Scratch an artist and the pus oozes out.

Heck, scratch most people and pus will ooze out. But artists are held to a loftier extreme.

It’s a dilemma. Should art be judged on the artist’s personal life?

If so, can we appreciate any art? Some art is just so damn good that personal deficiencies and sins simply cannot override it.

Art is art and life is life. If you’ve done the crime, you should do the time and if your artistic output suffers for it, so be it. If your artistic output is such that whatever horrible things you’ve done in your personal life does not diminish appreciation of it, so be it as well.

Que sera, sera, baby.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Johnny Come Lately

 

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Randolph Street: In Fashion

January 16th, 2019

1_MG_6058Nordstrom–Michigan Ave.

 

2_MG_6125

Nordstrom

 

3_MG_6106

Pioneer Court

 

4_MG_6131

Nordstrom

 

5_MG_6114

Pioneer Court

 

All photos © Jon Randolph 2015

jonrandolph.com

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Jim Siergey: Johnny Come Lately

January 16th, 2019

Believe it or not, in my youth I was on the cutting edge of the trendsetting sect of my generation. I was out there clad in the duds, sporting the hair style and digging the tunes that the rest of society would later be wearing, coifing and digging. As soon as those squares got hip, I went on to something hipper.

No Johnny-come-lately was I.

‘Was’ being the important word in that sentence. I emphasize that now because I have, as of this morning, become enamored (the secondary definition—having a liking or admiration for not be filled with a feeling of love for—at least, not yet) with Michael Jackson.

I can sense your double-take.

Yes, I know that he’s been dead for nearly a decade and in his prime was a big star, a veritable cultural icon who was dubbed “The King of Pop” but he just wasn’t on my radar. I wasn’t digging what he was laying down. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of what he was laying down as I paid him little to no attention.

michaeljacksonyoung

Young Michael…

 

Now, I wasn’t entirely unconscious to Pop Culture beyond 1974. It’s just that not much of it shivered me timbers, ya know wuddimean? Of course, I was hep to The Jackson Five but they were just blips on my Pop Culture radar. I also knew of Michael Jackson and all his tabloid travails and I would hear his songs on the radio but they neither shook my nerves nor rattled my brain.

However, I never saw him perform. Until this morning.

I was idly scrolling through my iPad tablet and came across a video of some guy playing harmonica at Carnegie Hall. He was blowing a rousing rendition of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” that had the tuxedoed and bejeweled audience clapping rhythmically along as if they were at the Grand Ol’ Opry. When it ended another video scrolled up.

It began with a darkened stage lit only by a dim spotlight. A figure clad in a baggy white T-shirt and black pants strode on carrying a suitcase. He placed the case on a table, opened it and withdrew a sparkly black coat. The audience went wild.

My ever-deductive mind determined that this was some kind of television program. Perhaps it was one of those talent shows that have been airing for years that I have never watched because my Pop Culture periscope has long been lowered. I thought maybe this fellow was a Michael Jackson impersonator.

After he donned the sparkly jacket he withdrew a fedora which he seductively snuggled upon his noggin to even more wild cheering from the audience. His final withdrawal was a sparkly white glove that he dramatically slipped upon his right hand. The joint went crazy.

As he turned to face the audience and the spot grew brighter I could see that it truly was THE Michael Jackson. Music started and he began dancing and singing one of his songs that was not unfamiliar to me…”Billie Jean”.

Man, could this dude move. I was transfixed. His choreography was very cool. Each nuance of his movements was precisely timed and right on. His performance could not have been more perfect.

Even Fred Astaire would have been jealous.

Now I know why he was such a big star. It wasn’t so much his voice or lyrics, it was his dancing. If he was on stage you couldn’t take your eyes off of him.

Yet! There were shots of the audience and seen were some girls, women, who were grooving to the music, shimmying along with their eyes closed. With their eyes closed! Michael fucking Jackson is performing on stage in front of you and you’re off in your own world, dancing with your eyes closed!? Girl, I don’t believe you!

See? It didn’t take long for me to become a Super Fan of the man.

Now I feel that I must go seek out the Thriller video. I understand that was a big hit.

Yeah, I know. Just call me Johnny.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Mental Pathways

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